Miami Heat

Five takeaways from Heat-Wizards: When Miami’s defense isn’t good, it pays the price

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra comments on loss to the Wizards

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra comments on loss to the Washington Wizards at AmericanAirlines Arena on Saturday, November 10, 2018.
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Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra comments on loss to the Washington Wizards at AmericanAirlines Arena on Saturday, November 10, 2018.

Five takeaways from the Miami Heat’s 116-110 loss to the Washington Wizards (3-9) on Saturday at AmericanAirlines Arena.

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1. The Heat’s defense has been inconsistent to start the season. So far, it’s been an up-and-down trend for Miami (5-7) on this end of the court. Saturday was one of the bad games, as the Wizards scored 116 on 48.2 percent shooting. John Wall led Washington with a game-high 28 points and nine assists.

And it’s not like Washington’s offense has been a strength this season. The Wizards entered the contest with a 2-9 record and the fifth-worst offensive rating in the NBA.

“We had moments where we competed defensively. We had other moments that I didn’t recognize our team,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s what we’re dealing with right now is finding some level of consistency to the things that matter for us. For us, we have to be that hard hat, lunch pale, defensive minded team every single possession, every single quarter, every single game. And when we’re not, we pay the price for it.”

Saturday’s disappointing defensive performance comes one night after the Heat allowed the Pacers to score 110 on 54.4 percent shooting.

For the season, Miami ranks 12th with a defensive rating of 107.2 (points allowed per 100 possessions). In the Heat’s five wins this season, it’s posted a defensive rating of 98.8. In its seven losses, that number jumps to 113.2 points allowed per 100 possessions.

Without a pure scorer on the Heat’s roster, Spoelstra has repeatedly said defense is the most realistic path to success for this team. But quality defense hasn’t consistently been there as a path for Miami to take this year.

The Heat is now 0-5 when allowing opponents to shoot better than 48 percent this season.

“I think we just got to come together collectively,” guard Wayne Ellington said. “We haven’t done that yet, really, consistently. We’ll have a good defensive game here and there, and the next one we’ll be a different team. It’s strange for us because we know each other, we’re all used to each other. But we got to figure it out. We got to communicate and we got to take that step forward. We’ve been talking about it for a little while now and it’s time to take action.”

2. Goran Dragic returned, but he wasn’t his usual self. In his return from a right knee injury that forced him to miss two games, the Heat’s starting point guard finished with zero points on 0 of 7 shooting in 21 minutes Saturday. It’s the first time Dragic has been held scoreless since he was traded to the Heat in February 2015.

It’s been a tough stretch for Dragic, who also missed the Heat’s loss to the Hawks on Nov. 3 with a right foot injury. While he was healthy enough to play Saturday, it’s obvious that he’s playing through some pain.

But Dragic quickly shot down post-game questions that alluded to his injury as an excuse for his performance Saturday.

“It was nothing. I just missed shots,” Dragic said. “... It was just an off night. All those shots I took were good shots. I watched on tape. The ball just didn’t want to go in.”

The Heat has to hope Dragic returns to form soon. Miami’s offense has struggled without him. The Heat has recorded an offensive rating of 111.6 (points scored per 100 possessions) with Dragic on the court and 100.5 when he’s not playing this season.

3. Turnovers are still an issue for the Heat. Just 24 hours after committing a season-high 24 turnovers in a loss to the Pacers, Miami finished with 19 turnovers Saturday.

Turnovers have been a problem for the Heat all season. Miami is ranked 26th in the league with an average of 16.8 turnovers per game. In order to be an efficient offensive team and win games without a perennial All-Star on its roster, the Heat needs to get that number down.

“There’s a lot of indecisiveness,” Josh Richardson said when asked to explain Miami’s turnover problem. “I think that’s probably the biggest thing. We need to get some more movement within our plays and we’re just not really doing it.”

Since the start of 2016-17 (the first season the core of this group played together), Miami is 5-17 in games it’s committed at least 18 turnovers. The Heat is 62-38 when finishing with 15 or fewer turnovers during this stretch. It’s simple math. Miami gives itself a much better chance at winning games with fewer mistakes.

4. Hassan Whiteside has been dishing out assists lately. After starting the season with zero assists over the Heat’s first seven games, Whiteside has now recorded at least one assist in four consecutive games. Miami’s starting center finished with a season-high three assists against the Wizards.

This is a pretty impressive assist streak, considering Whiteside has averaged 0.5 assists over his NBA career. Of the 221 players who had logged at least 200 total minutes of action this season, Whiteside entered Saturday with the second-fewest assists (4) behind only Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (3).

In addition to his assists, Whiteside finished with 15 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks against the Wizards. But Miami was outrebounded 48-38 by Washington.

5. Rodney McGruder is not going away. Just when it looked like McGruder was starting to revert back to the player he used to be, he turned in a career-best performance. The Heat wing player finished with a career-high 22 points on 8 of 14 shooting.

This put an end to a quick shooting slump, as McGruder had made just 32.1 percent of his shots over Miami’s previous three games.

For the season, McGruder is averaging 13.6 points on 46.1 percent shooting to go with 5.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists.

And McGruder is still playing with the hustle that earned him a spot on the Heat’s roster a few years ago. The 27-year-old entered Saturday second in the NBA in distance covered at 2.75 miles per game.

“Rodney has been consistent all year long,” Spoelstra said. “He’s been steady, you can count on him. It doesn’t surprise me. I didn’t realize that was a career-high [in points].”

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